Privacy and Data Privacy
The government’s imposition of embossed number plates sparked discourse regarding the relevancy of such digitalization initiatives from the government and beneficiaries’ financial capacity to own such technology. The discourse was also centred around how such number plates contain English numbers rather than Nepali which indicated nationalist sentiments between the lines. It also pointed toward the possible corruption from the government agencies questioning their intentions to bring this technology on such short notice and mandate. With that, the concern was also related to users’ hassle while registering the number plates in such a short time period given Nepal’s snail-paced bureaucratic process and system. However, the discourse on privacy and how such technology could be a tool of surveillance for people in power was not in the picture. Having said that, the government has as of now backed off of its decision of installing the embossed plates which is good news for now.
Another data privacy concern was observed where Vianet’s data was hacked by unknown parties in which, the users’ information was taken by the hackers. This incident with Vianet is not a new one, as such incidents have been repeatedly happening posing great threats to users’ data security and privacy. It also shows that the ISPs have not been accountable to their users to protect their data given the previous incidents of hacking. No accountability has been asked from the public or the authorities in this current case which is very tragic.
Freedom of Expression
The government of Nepal is planning to bring social media under certain rules and regulations with imposed taxes, which can further infringe one’s freedom of expression online. In the meeting of the assembly, the president of Nepal announced this plan. The government is also thinking of moving ahead with the plan of having Nepal’s own satellite.
In a round-table discussion organized by Media Action Nepal, journalists, media activists, and press freedom stakeholders have urged the government to stand by its commitment to press freedom, including the international treaties and commitments, to protect press freedom rights. However, an opinion piece says that despite the claims of the government supporting press freedom there have been many incidents of journalists facing serious safety problems continued in form of digital control, especially in South Asian countries.
Nepal Police Headquarters have started arresting YouTubers following an incident of a TV actor being booked for the rape of a minor. The police have been arresting them on the note of making image slandering videos and unnecessary statements about the incident. Press Council had submitted a letter to Cyber Bureau demanding to take action against the people who were posting misleading and deceptive videos online and on YouTube. Many videos were posted online supporting the perpetrator actor during the ongoing investigation. The Police believed that arresting a few of them would create fear for others and they would stop posting such videos. Cyber Bureau received 77 complaints against such deceptive videos and 17 of them were arrested till now but the District Court has ordered to release on bail.
Social media and online news media blew up with the case of Sushmita Regmi, a freelance make-up artist and a former model, who shared her story of sexual abuse and rape on various social media platforms. Initially, she shared short clips of her story through Tiktok. However, her videos were removed under the name of “Violation of Community Guidelines” after which she re-shared them on her Instagram page. Under the pretence of community guidelines, such censorship from social media companies discourages content around sexual expression – including experiences of sexual violence, the right to information on sexual and reproductive health, etc. We question who is accountable for such attempts and who gets to decide the definition and parameters of what constitutes appropriate content.
Sushmita’s case also prompted protests in offline and online spaces against rape and sexual violence. However, apart from the needed rage and protests in both spaces, there should be systematic reformation in our laws and society – how we understand sexual assault, the conversation around consent and the role of larger social structures like patriarchy and casteism that inflicts violence on women and those from the marginalised communities.
Following the media outrage on this case of sexual violence, many activists and civil society organisations demanded an increase in the statute of limitations against sexual violence. While conversations have been directed mostly on sexual violence taking place in offline spaces, there have not been mentions/discussions on online violence, which is not a new form of violence instead is only an extension of violence happening in the physical sphere.
Whereas another article on “What are children doing on the internet” looks at online safety from the lens of power and control, such as controlling what children do on their social media, using parental control apps, etc, giving little to no importance to children’s individual agency and autonomy. While opinion pieces such as “How Nepal can use digital platforms and apps to combat gender-based violence and advance equality” is written in a language and tone which puts the burden on those who face online abuse/violence to take initiative and to be the change makers and use technology to combat the problem. Such kinds of narratives fail to question the socio-cultural system and structure that actually perpetuates violence.
Despite the news on online violence, people have also found ways of seeking pleasure and sexual expression through online spaces, by using dating apps. Dating apps are becoming quite popular in Nepal, and apps like Tinder and Bumble are common among Nepali teenagers, especially in major cities such as Kathmandu and Pokhara, etc. With the rise in digitalisation in Nepal, users have increased even more than before. The convenience and easiness to meet people online and then hang out, is one of the reasons why the concept of dating through an online app is taking prospects – a gradual shift from traditional dating practices. Here, people usually find great romantic partners or good friends.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were warned regarding a possible internet shutdown in Nepal, as a result of the government failing to provide currency exchange services. Declaration by the Internet Service Providers Association of Nepal (ISPAN) was made after there was an issue in the payment with the Indian upstream providers. Indian upstream providers had warned to stop providing the internet bandwidth service if the Nepal government would not pay the due payment. The government has promised to facilitate the payment process to Indian upstream providers after a meeting with the Ministry of Information Technology (MoCIT). The government has not provided foreign currency recommendations for (Internet Service Providers) ISPs to pay Indian companies which resulted in billions of dues over the last 6 months. The Election Commission Nepal had also requested MoCIT not to stop the internet service as the local election was just one week away and it would affect the election severely.
Internet is a vital necessity for people, and the country has to depend upon foreign private companies as well as the rigidity of the government for the payment could possibly affect internet access, affecting people, businesses and organizations who depend upon the internet for their work, movement and activism.
The Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) has required licensing for providing internet services. The body has banned operations of telecommunications services without its permission and issued notice warnings on social media ads that claim to provide satellite internet service, which the body hasn’t governed or allowed yet. This could potentially affect community internet programs and projects who work on a small scale. A potential way forward for more effective channels for surveillance and censorship can also be seen through regulation.
After the mandatory provision of registering for National ID (NID) for the e-passport registration, the government claims that there has been an increase in the number of NID registration reaching up to four lakhs monthly. The Department of National ID Card and Civil Registration has started to print the National ID card from 9th May at the department’s office in Singh Durbar. The Department received 31 Lakh 47 thousand cards from the French contracted company and 8 lakhs cards would be received gradually. The card printing can print over 1000 cards in an hour. The department has received applications of 67 lakhs 79 thousand and 642 until now. The NID department has finished the National ID card mission in 31 districts and it is ongoing in 14 districts. The first National ID card was distributed in Panchthar in 2018 as part of a pilot project started by the government of Nepal. Though there are National ID card mission going on in various districts everyone who had registered for the card are yet to receive their card. but the implementation of the NID card is yet due. There is a lack of clarity over the implementation of the card.
Meanwhile, the Chief District Office in Gulmi is planning to introduce free online registration for e-passports. The Chief District Officer said that they thought about introducing such a system after users complained about the complex online form registration, expensive form fees, and delay getting a turn to register due to long queues. Similarly, Nepal Telecommunication Authority (NTA) has issued an order to tighten the SIM and RIM distribution only after the customer fills up the KYC forms and to verify the information provided by the customer. The NTA has ordered them to fill up the actual details otherwise they will be punished as per the existing laws.
Though the promises of a ‘smart city’ from last year’s election failed, this year the same promises of a ‘smart city’ have become the main topic of the election campaign agenda by different parties, however, it seems that these aspirations are limited to slogans only. In this year’s election too, the local election candidates promised the same idea, from false promises of having online classes on trees to absurd promises like flying a helicopter to Mars. As we know that since the 2017 election, the pledges of ‘smart city’ became a trend in the local government but they seem to completely ignore the digital divide existing in Nepal. On the one hand, the government lacks clarity on the actual idea of the constituencies of smart cities. On the flip side, many government services were halted or delayed due to unstable internet in different parts of Nepal. Recent news coverage showed that government services were shut-down because of the internet shutdown in Jumla. The government’s ambitious vows are indeed an irony and a lived reality that Nepali people face daily.
Minister for Communications and Information Technology announced that the implementation of a digital payment system was the top priority of the government. As the government Spokesperson said, “the government is promoting the cashless payment system.” He expressed that an online payment system would help to enforce the Digital Nepal Framework. Similarly, Bharatpur Metropolitan city has introduced an online tax payment service, online registration service and Digital Citizen’s Charter under the smart city project. The metropolitan believes that the online system of online tax payment would help in good governance. However, the government keeps the manual submission of the documents mandatory despite online services which give double troubles to the service providers.
Similarly, the Clean feed policy was implemented in Nepal with the promise of getting rid of the advertisement and giving the Nepali stakeholders space to create Nepali advertisements but after 18 months of implementation, this has been limited to just wishful thinking.
During the local election, the Election Commission (EC) warned people against misuse of social media during the election campaign period for misleading content about the election breaking the code of conduct that the EC has already issued for electoral campaigning. They warned to monitor strictly and punish if people post content that is misleading, fake, defaming, wrong information sharing and either sharing views of favour or opposition of anyone on social media platforms.